Posted on Leave a comment

Injury Prevention for Rowers

With rowing pre-season schedules starting to heat up it is important that we acknowledge the potential increased injury risk that athletes may have. With the increased workload and the repetitive nature of the sport there are some common overuse injuries that can occur. To understand the injuries we first need to understand the sport. As with many sports technique in rowing is paramount to not only performance but also to the prevention of potential overuse injuries. We must also note that there are two types of rowing; sweep whereby each person has one oar and sculling where each person has two oars (pictured below). There are four phases of the rowing stroke (3), comprised of: 

  • The catch; the start of the stroke where the rower’s legs and back are fully flexed and the oar is square. 
  • The drive phase; where the legs extend first followed by the back beginning to extend, this is where the most power is produced for the stroke. 
  • The release; where the elbows draw the blade through the water as the handle lightly brushes the abdomen, the blade is then feathered across the water. 
  • The recovery; where the drive phase is reversed until the arms are fully extended to prepare for the next catch phase. 

Now that we understand the basics of rowing, let’s have a look at the common overuse injuries that can occur and what we can do to help prevent them. 

Back Injuries

Firstly non-specific lower back injuries account for 15 to 25% of injuries in rowers, with it more common among females due to hip muscle imbalance, and those starting training prior to the age of 16 (3). These injuries are generally chronic by nature and are caused by excessive hyperflexion and/or excessive twisting forces applied on the lumbar region (3). This is generally exacerbated at the catch position as the lower back muscles (erector spinae) can be relatively relaxed, whilst having great loads (up to 4 times body weight) placed on them during the drive phase (3). Other causes include fatigue and breakdown of technique due to increased volume and intensity, as well as varying training methods, compounding the muscle fibre contractility (3). However there are ways we can manage this as training volume starts to increase, including:

  • Improving hip flexor strength whilst improving hamstring length.
  • Improving endurance in the lumbar extensor muscles. 
  • Improving abdominal and gluteal strength. 
  • Maintaining length in the gluteal muscles. 

Exercise we can do to help reduce this risk include (1):

  1. Back extension
  2. Good morning
  3. Crunch
  4. Hip thrust 
  5. Hip flexor stretch
  6. Inch worm (dynamic hamstring stretch)

The Ribs

The next common over use injury for rowers is rib stress fractures, a less commonly expected injury however due to the excessive repetitive force that is exerted by the muscles around the ribs (serratus anterior and external obliques) with every stroke, it can lead to a weakness in the bones (2). This loss of strength in the bones can lead to a decreased shock absorption ability and increase the stress placed on the ribs at selected focal points (2). The incidence of this injury is up to 22% higher in female athletes due to often decreased bone density (2). One of the key factors that we can target in the gym to help reduce the risk of this occurring is working to reduce the imbalance between the serratus anterior muscles and the external obliques (2). Some exercises targeted towards reducing this risk include (1):

  • Push ups 
  • Bench press 
  • Push up plus

Shoulder Pain

The last two injuries that we will speak about are a little less common however are still very important to consider when looking at injury prevention. Non-specific shoulder pain can be caused by many factors however the most common includes overuse, poor technique and tension through the upper body (3). To reduce the risk of this injury occurring we can improve strength through the lower traps, serratus anterior, and shoulder girdle (3) by implementing exercises such as (1):

  • High cable row
  • Shoulder Y, T, W 

ITB Friction Syndrome

Finally, Iliotibial band friction syndrome is an overuse injury felt as a pain on the lateral side of the knee, commonly as a result of the full knee compression that occurs in the catch position (3). It is associated with tightness in the Iliotibial band (ITB) and weakness through the hip abductors (3), therefore it is important that we work to improve hip abductor strength as well as stretch and lengthen the ITB – this might involve (1):

  • ITB stretch 
  • Banded clam 
  • Cable abduction

Summary

So there you have it – the repetitive and demanding nature of rowing results in high risk of injuries, however, with some critical planning and programming including strength training and mobility we can help to reduce the risk of these injuries occurring. 

References

  1. Gee, T. I. Olsen, P. D. Berger, N. J. Golby, J. & Thompson, K. G. Strength and Conditioning practices in rowing. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25: 668-682. 2011. 
  2. McDonnell, L. K. Hume, P. A. & Nolte, V. Rib stress fractures among rowers. Journal of Sports Medicine. 41: 883-901. 2011. 
  3. Rumball, J. S. Lebrun, C. M. Di Ciacca, S. R. & Orlando, K. Rowing Injuries. Journal of Sports Medicine. 35: 537-555. 2005. 
Posted on Leave a comment

Junior Athlete Development

As professionalism in sport continues to grow in Australia, greater demands flow through to youth athletes in order to raise the standard and produce ready-made stars upon entering the elite sporting arena. While it is fantastic to see continually rising expertise and commitment by both coaches and athletes in this space, sometimes the boundaries are pushed too far in order to progress the athlete for success in the immediate term, rather than a long-term vision of what the athlete wants to attain.

Within the weight room a prime example of this is an athlete rushing into a barbell back squat before progressing through the necessary steps to become proficient in this lift. Moving through a series of progressions to gain competency in the squat may look like this:

These progressions should correspond with athlete movement ability; being able to nail each version prior to moving through to the next, rather than on an age basis and thinking ‘they’re 16, they can back squat’. Athletes progress and develop at different ages and rates, thus applying a blanket rule in accordance with age is simply wrong. 

The beautiful thing about an athlete that is yet to perform a lift is the opportunity to avoid learning a poor pattern. Using the above example, if an athlete jumps straight into a barbell back squat – a complex lift – it is likely that the athlete will adopt a technique which will see them compensate in key areas to get through, potentially involving multiple flaws. Unfortunately, if a pattern is learned it takes a lot longer to re-learn it in the appropriate manner. 

If you’ve got a spare 8 minutes, this fun video demonstrates the theory perfectly:

Of additional concern is the prescription of variables such as weight, volume and tempo.Manipulating such variables may prove as a stepping stone to the next variant – i.e. attempt different tempos before moving on to the next level.

What’s missing?

The number 1 rule – have FUN! While there needs to be aspects of training which are strict, measured and difficult, adoption to training will be much greater if the athlete enjoys it, also going a long way to reduce monotony, burn out and fatigue. 

Summary

  • Avoid learning poor patterns.
  • Don’t compromise long term success for short term gains.
  • Make fun the focus – why did they start playing in the first place?
Posted on Leave a comment

Returning to Pre-Season Training: 5 Key Exercises

Pre-season training is nearly back – that time of year where local footy and netball club’s gruel it out and seem to destroy their body on the back of no training. Unfortunately, given the circumstances which see most players go from 0-100 in a small amount of time, this is a period where susceptibility to injury is high. 

RAD has put together 5 key exercises for athletes to complete prior to returning and throughout the pre-season period, with a view of increasing strength and resilience in critical areas required for both football and netball. 

Exercise 1 – Groin Squeeze

3 sets of 5 (5 second squeezes)

The adductors are critical in aiding any lateral movement. The groin squeeze can be completed with any form of ball placed between the knees. From here, draw both knees in to squeeze the ball, holding the squeeze for 5 seconds. It is important to build intensity to prepare the adductors; on the first set build in with intensities of 80% effort, 90% effort, before squeezing the ball as hard as possible for the remaining reps. 

Exercise 2 – Single Leg RDL

3 sets of 8 each side

The eccentric contraction of the hamstrings during the single leg RDL is a great tool for preparing for high speed running. Stand on one leg with a soft knee (i.e. knee not locked out), keep your torso up tall, and drive the heel of the free leg towards the sky, attempting to make a T like shape with the body. Move nice and slow through the range, trying to avoid any bending of the knee or back. 

Exercise 3 – Split Squat

3 sets of 10 each side

The split squat will allow us to load up the quads which will receive a lot of use during any jumping, running or kicking. From a split stance, keep your body up tall and lower the back knee towards the ground, always thinking about the majority of your weight being placed through the front heel. 

Exercise 4 – Single Leg Calf Raise

3 sets of 12 each side (2 sec squeeze)

Standing on one leg with some balance support (i.e. next to a wall), push right up onto your toes and tense your calf. Hold for 2 seconds at the peak of the contraction and control down before moving into the next rep. 

Exercise 5 – Side Plank

3 sets of ~ 30 – 60 seconds each side

Lie on your side in a straight line, bridging up with your elbow and feet as the two points of contact on the floor, or alternatively regressing the exercise by bridging from bent knees. Maintain a straight line through the body from shoulder to ankle, avoiding sagging or bending at the hips.

How often?

Completing these exercises two times per week will be a massive help in preparing your body for the demands of pre-season. You can complete them as a session all at once or spread them throughout the week – whatever fits you schedule.

Questions?

As always if you have any questions regarding these exercises or anything physical preparation, get in touch with the team at RAD today.